Pros & Cons of Using an Online Blog Software or a Content Management System

Things to Note before using a Blog or CMS


The Pros and Cons of Using an Online Blog Software or a Content Management System (CMS)

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

I maintain a "play" site with a blog elsewhere. The blog currently uses WordPress for its blog software. This article documents my joys and frustrations in using a third party online blog software to maintain the website. The points mentioned below are not specific to WordPress, and apply whether you are using a blog script or a content management system (CMS).

Advantages of Using an Online Blog Software

  1. It Allows You to Focus on the Content

    Posting an article is almost effortless. Compared to adding an article to thesitewizard.com, using an online blog software to post articles is like a dream come true. I only need to concentrate on the content of the article. The blog software automatically takes care of modifying the main page to include a snippet of the article and putting links to that article on the main, archive, category and tag pages.

    You are essentially freed from the mundane nitty-gritty of adding articles, to doing the stuff that only you can do: writing content.

  2. Automatic Generation of Site Usability Features

    Unlike an offline web editor, where everything you want done on your site has to be added manually, blogging and CMS software handle things like tagging, categories and a managing a search engine for you. Simply tag your post as having a certain keyword, and a new index page is automatically generated for you with a list of posts that have that particular tag. There's no need to contemplate whether it is worth the effort and time to create a new page for that particular keyword or tag. The software does it for you. Your visitors automatically have the option, if they wish, to check out all the other articles having the same tag or keyword.

    Likewise, adding a search engine to your website is no longer a hassle. In fact, the few popular blog software that I have tried automatically add a search engine for you whether you want it or not.

    The blogging software automatically increases the usability of your website without adding complexity to your job as a webmaster.

  3. Creation of a Community

    If you use a blogging software, your visitors will be able to give their comments and interact with each other under each article you write. For some people, this is a significant advantage, since you can create a community of people around your site who will revisit your site regularly for updates. This loyal following also helps to break your site's dependence on search engines to send traffic.

  4. Ease of Site Redesign

    Unless your site is maintained using a sophisticated site manager like Dreamweaver's template system, or you dump all design elements of your web pages into server side includes, updating the design of your website is usually not a trivial operation. Even if you have a good search and replace utility, you still have to manually fix a lot of things if the individual pages on your site have some bespoke design elements.

    Updating the site design when using a blog script or a CMS usually involves modifying a single set of theme files. Once you're done, all the pages on your website automatically reflect the changes.

The Disadvantages of Using Online Blog or CMS Software

  1. Potential Security Risks through the Online Scripts

    While it's true that there are security risks in any type of website, having an online blog or CMS software installed on your site increases that risk. Such software are often complicated beasts with many modules performing different tasks. It is always possible that there is a security hole somewhere that the developer was not aware of. Since the software is on your website, open to the public, anyone who discovers a hole before the software developers fixes it can compromise your website and its data.

    The risk increases if you are not up-to-date in upgrading your blog or CMS software.

  2. The Inconvenient Timing of Upgrades

    In general, upgrades can be a colossal pain in the neck. Online blog software developers release upgrades every now and then to fix security holes and other bugs. As mentioned above, for the blogger or CMS user, there is really no option other than to upgrade, otherwise your site can be easily compromised. Unfortunately, such security upgrades don't always happen at convenient times. Nonetheless, when they are released, it's in your best interest to apply them whether you are free or not.

    It would be great if upgrading were easy. For the most part it is, particularly updates that contain only security fixes. Sometimes, however, an upgrade involves a modification to the theme files which control the website's design. Such modifications may or may not involve adding new features supported by the newer version of the blogging software. If you are anything like me, chances are that you would have customized the theme files so as to make them more search engine friendly. If you want your site to incorporate the new features, you will have to manually go through all the updated theme files to modify them to include your changes. Since you can never be sure whether an update to the theme impacts your site, you always have to perform this check on every upgrade.

    The difference between such a situation and the normal one when you want to change your site design is that the latter takes place at a time you decide. Security upgrades force you to take time out of your normal schedule to attend to things like this.

  3. Unusable Site During Upgrades

    While you are uploading the files to your website during an upgrade of the blog or CMS software, your site is basically unusable. If the updated software requires changes to the database, you have to run an upgrade script after uploading the new version of the software before your site will load correctly. Since upload speeds tend to be slow for most ISPs today, there is a large window of time, from the time you start uploading to the time you run the upgrade script to finalize the upgrade, where your website is unusable. If your site is a busy one, there will definitely be a period where the visitors reaching your site get a garbled or unusable site.

  4. The Need to Deal with Comment Spam in Blogs

    User comments on blogs can be a boon to your site as well as a hassle. It's great when genuine visitors leave their comments on your site, whether positive or negative. At least you know how people are reacting to your articles. But along with these legitimate visitors come bots and other webmasters that spam your blog with advertisements for their sites that, far from adding value, decrease the quality of your web page. Of course you can delete such comments. But this takes up your time. On certain blogs, the signal to noise ratio has become so low that their webmasters are forced to disable comments to cope, thus negating one of the advantages of using a blog software to create a community.

  5. Mistakes are Immediately "Live"

    When you redesign your website with the blogging or CMS software, you are redesigning it "live" on your site. Any mistake you make is instantaneously reflected across your site. With an offline web editor, you can preview your site with a browser to make sure it looks the way you intend before you release it to your visitors.

  6. Limitations of the Software

    In general, you also have to work within the limitations of the software. If your software does not have a particular feature that you want, you will not be able to have that facility on your site until the developers of the script implement it.

  7. The Software Uses More Resources on Your Web Server

    CMS and blogging software use more CPU, RAM and other resources on your web server. The software has to construct each page every time a visitor loads it, taking up valuable computational resources. On a high traffic day, not only will your site appear slow, it may also slow down all the other websites hosted on the same web server. If you are hosted on a shared web hosting plan, this often brings down a notice from your web host that you have exceeded the resource limits on the server, resulting in their recommending that you upgrade to a dedicated server.

  8. Difficulty of Site Design or Redesign (Newcomers Only)

    Yes, I know that this seems to contradict what I said earlier about the ease of redesigning your site when using blog software. I'm actually talking about a different aspect of website design in this section. If you are content with using the default design provided by the blogging software, or one of the pre-made themes that people have created for that software, then designing your blog's appearance will not be a problem for you. You simply choose one of the designs (themes) that others have made.

    The problem comes when you actually need to customize that appearance in a substantial way, in directions not provided by the blog software or by its plugins. To do this, the level of technical knowledge you need is far greater than if you were to use a visual web editor like Dreamweaver, KompoZer or BlueGriffon. You generally need to know a bit of HTML, CSS and even the programming language used by the software (usually PHP), things that you can, for the most part, avoid learning when using visual editors. (See What are HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and Perl? if you are not sure what these abbreviations mean.)

    Of course if you are already conversant in HTML, CSS and PHP, then this particular point does not apply to you.

Other Differences in Operation

There are other differences in the way you do things when you use a blog software and when you create a site using a web editor. Since the following are neither advantages nor disadvantages, but just differences in the way things are done, I've listed them separately.

  1. The Need to Make Offline Backups

    If you use an offline web editor (eg, editors like Dreamweaver, KompoZer and BlueGriffon mentioned above) to maintain your website, you automatically have an offline backup of your website every time you create your website. The web editor creates a copy of your site on your own computer and only uploads (transfers) it to your "live" site when you tell it to.

    When you use an online software, be it a blogging script or a content management system, your content is created online. You have to remember to create a backup of your database as well as the other files that you have modified. You cannot view the contents of this backup the way you can view the offline copy of your website with a web editor, since the backup is typically in a special database format suitable for importing back into the blog software and not a browser-readable web page format.

  2. Changing a Web Host Requires Different Steps

    If you are accustomed to having a static site, changing web hosts involves moving the static HTML files on your website.

    When you have a script-driven database site such as one created by a blog script or a CMS script, moving a website is slightly more involved. You have to not only move the files in your web directory, but also export your data from your old host's database, create a new database in your new host and import your data.

Final Comments

Having listed some of the pros and cons of using an online blog or CMS software to manage your site, it should be noted that I'm not trying to encourage or discourage anyone from using such software. Far from it. Rather, I think that it is important that you factor in the differences in working when using an online content management software particularly if you are used to using an offline web editor or a programmer's text editor. Knowing the differences allows you to plan for them and avoid pitfalls that come from being new to the world of online website management.

(You may also be interested to read my discussion on What's the Difference Between a Content Management System (CMS), a Blog, a Web Editor and an Online Site Builder?, which deals with this topic from another angle, not quite overlapping this one.)

Copyright © 2007-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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